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article imageWhy is the birth rate in Japan declining?

By KJ Mullins     Nov 20, 2007 in Lifestyle
Japan is facing a crisis when it comes to their birth rates. With a national average of only 1.26 live births per mother the population may not be able to sustain the aging members in the near future.
Last January Japanese Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa made some comments that reflected negatively on Japanese women when it came to the declining birthrate in Japan. With a bit of crudeness the Health Minister made a valid point for all that Japan has done of late to boost fertility it hasn't worked.
Arresting the decline would be difficult, Mr Yanagisawa said, because "the number of birth-giving machines and devices is fixed".
"All we can ask for is for them to do their best per head," he said.
There are multiple reasons why the birth rate has become so low in Japan. Worldwide the marriage age has increased as women are more independent and a competing force in the workplace. That though can not be used as a viable factor since other countries have the same issues and still a higher birth rate.
The Japanese people when asked blame money worries, working and raising a family and lack of support for mothers.
In Japan pay is linked to age. Many young adults deal with temporary contracts that pay little. The allowances for child care are low and housing costs are high. Add in the costs of educational loans and you have a generation who are barely making ends meet.
Once a family decides to have children in Japan the mother often ends up at home with the child. This is not always because she wants to but because there is pressure in the workplace for her to do so. Jobs are not left open for mothers to be in many small and medium sized firms. Dr Kuniko Inoguchi says that 70% of pregnant women quit their jobs.
To keep the job can be difficult. The struggle to find a day care centre that keeps infants in their budgets is difficult. Others have found that they are passed by for promotion once they have given birth.
"Many women want to work and have kids," said Mitsuko Kamaya, a housewife.
"But it's still the case that it is either work or kids. Women feel that they have to throw one dream or the other away," she said.
"If there was a system that guaranteed women could get back to work, I think more would feel secure enough to have kids."
In many ways Japanese child-rearing has not changed in decades with fathers working long hours and mothers at home dealing with household tasks and taking care of baby. In previous generations though families lived together with the generations helping one another. In rural areas this is still true but not in the larger cities. That could be part of the reason that the birth rates in rural areas are above the national average.
Tokyo and Osaka City have the lowest birth rates in Japan. Recently the government has tried to bring in family friendly policies. They have added more day care centres for working families with later hours. Schools are running after school programmes. Stay at home mothers can even use pay-per-hour sitting services to have some time for themselves.
So far that hasn't changed the plunging birth rate.
"We can try to publicise the idea that having a child is a good experience, and work to create an environment in which women feel secure enough to have one," said Yasuko Baba of the city's Children and Youth Bureau.
"But we can't say 'please have a child'. Ultimately it is up to them."
More about Japan, Birth rate, Tokyo